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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Henslowe's 'ne
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1630  Thursday, 2 September 2004

From:           Chris Whatmore <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Sep 2004 18:32:10 +0100
Subject:        Henslowe's 'ne'

Many thanks to all those who responded to my query a couple of weeks
back, and apologies for the delay in replying: my ISP seems to have
taken it upon itself to block SHAKSPER emails and I've only just worked
around the problem (with Hardy's help). I shall of course try to track
down and digest all the references provided but here's an initial
response to your various comments and suggestions:

I agree with Markus Marti that Henslowe's use of 'ne' seems to be among
the more consistent and accurate elements of the Diary, although to me
that would strengthen, not weaken, the argument that it was financial
shorthand. Pounds, shillings and pence do seem to be Henslowe's main
interest - at least in these pages - so the more closely his jottings
concern money, the more careful we might presume them to be! On the
subject of increased takings on 'ne' days, I still doubt that the ticket
prices would have been higher for new plays (would you pay extra to see
a play you'd never heard of?) but I can quite see that it might have
been a big social occasion and would therefore have attracted a bigger
crowd. The question, of course, is how much bigger. I share the doubts
about the Newington Butts theory - the only reason I raised it was a
December 1991 SHAKSPER post that put it forward as one of "the most
interesting, revolutionary, or important works of Shakespearean
scholarship or criticism published [that] year". It referred to Winifred
L. Frazer's argument that "ne" in Henslowe's *Diary* might actually mean
"Newington Butts" rather than "New" (*Notes & Queries* 38:1 March 1991,
34-5) and suggested that "this short item makes it difficult to look at
the *Diary* in quite the same way." With a recommendation like that, it
seems worth checking out.

I also agree with Bob Grumman's point that 'ne' is hardly an
abbreviation of 'new'; if Henslowe meant 'new', why didn't he use all
three letters as he did, for example, in numerous entries for a play
called 'The new worldes tragedie'? Elsewhere, at least four letters
appear to be needed before a word is abbreviated, e.g. 'payd' to 'pd' or
'with' to 'wth'. (Of course, my argument that 'ne' could have meant
'nett(e)' or 'neat(e)' would fall at this hurdle if Henslowe' was minded
to spell 'net' with three letters, but I haven't yet found an instance
of his using the full word, so I don't know the answer to this.) On the
question of whether n and e were initials, the photographic reproduction
in the Foakes 2nd edition suggests that they were not - there is no
space between the letters and they are both in lower case, similar to 'pd'.

Kathy Dent's point makes perfect sense: if the first performance of a
play was a fashionable occasion, as seems reasonable to suppose, then
takings - especially from the galleries - would logically be higher. Her
analogy with movie opening weekends is therefore apt in the case of
brand new shows, although perhaps less so in the case of rewritten or
relicensed ones. In both cases we again have to ask whether the increase
in attendance would on its own have been proportionally enough to
produce the consistently high takings recorded in the Diary. Some
further light might also need shedding on how new pieces were
publicised, or whether there was a 'regular' day of the week when new
plays and/or especially big social gatherings were expected. (The early
'ne' entries suggest it may have been Friday but later entries call this
into question.) And, as Duncan Salkeld points out, it still needs to be
explained why Henslowe got to keep the 'wholle gallereys' on these
occasions, if that indeed was the case. For my money, it is most likely
to be something along the lines suggested by Foakes, i.e. compensation
for having the play licensed and for other associated expenses, but it
would be good to get a more precise handle on how this process worked.

Finally, Diana Price's comments on the tiring-house takings would be
consistent with the idea that 'ne' days were the days for high society
to be seen at the theatre, since a seat in the Lords' Room might well be
worth more on those occasions. But as above, I am wary of any theory
based on variable pricing: firstly because it doesn't seem consistent
with what we already know about theatre entry fees (then or now); and
secondly because it doesn't sound like something the punters would
tolerate, especially if it involved a 100% hike. On the specific point
of 'ne' meaning 'double' , it is certainly true that Henslowe proposed
'n' as a notation for '2' (is this peculiar to him, by the way, or was
it accepted practice?) but I'm not yet convinced that there's a direct
link. Apart from anything else, his use of 'n' to mean '2' seems
restricted entirely to some kind of numerological game ('A Rewle to
Knowe vnder what planet A chillde Is borne in') and appears nowhere that
I can see in the main body of his accounts - although this may easily be
an oversight on my part.

Anyway - lots to think about and thanks once again for suggesting
further reading. Perhaps we can return to this topic in the future. cw

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